‘Bubble tea is very popular and very familiar in our way of living’

If you’ve been on King Street recently, you may have noticed a new and exciting spot. Thu Le and her husband Viet Nguyen, opened Ami Tea last year in hopes of helping Saint Johners develop and strengthen friendships.

“The status of Ami Tea is about [building] friendship and that’s what we want to do,” said Le.

When first arriving in Canada, the couple were told Canadians are traditionally individualistic when it comes to money. Splitting the bill is common and that was their expectation. Instead, they were delighted to see friends, couples, and colleagues treating each other and sometimes even tricking one another to believe they’d split the bill but pick up the tab instead.

Originally from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Nguyen and Le expressed that bubble tea is part of their culture. The couple lived on a street with over 10 different bubble tea shops to choose from.

“Bubble tea is very popular and very familiar in our way of living. When we moved here, my daughter missed bubble tea a lot…We usually had bubble tea 2-3 times a week,” said Le.

Nguyen holds a background in mechanical engineering and had been working for large corporations before opening his own company in Vietnam. It operated for 15 years and specialized in road checks with food factories as well as tech industries. The company also held many retail operations.

Le also holds a background in engineering and worked for BOSCH as a quality supervisor. She was in charge of quality systems and product testing and soon decided to take on a similar role for a popular food factory.

Their combined experience was certainly an asset when establishing their business. Nguyen was able to build equipment in the restaurant like the layout of the counter, whereas Le consistently ensures high-grade products and services.

When first arriving in Canada, the family settled in Moncton.

One day, they took a trip down to Saint John and Nguyen soon realized they had a deeper connection to the city. Two months later, they decided to move.

“We just recognized that Saint John is more fit to the family than Moncton. We felt that the city is what we need”.

They both began attending YMCA Newcomer Connections programming: Sector Specific Employment Language Training (SSELT) Program in Sales and Customer Services and Food Safety.

They explained that in Vietnam, they did a lot of work in English with various companies. However, the tone of language differed from that of Canada. Many of the interactions were short, impersonal, and straightforward. Through the SSELT programs, they were able to learn proper and formal ways of responding to customers while remaining polite to Canadian standards.

“It is very important for all newcomers to understand the culture and English here. This country has different ways for English meanings. Even though we have English as a basic language, it’s important to understand different situations and different meanings…and different ways of speaking,” said Le.

“I also introduced my friends who are newcomers here, that they should learn English in Sales and Customer Service, even though they don’t work in Sales and Customer positions. That course is very important because when we go outside, we understand what the people here need.”